Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 23 April 2019

At the 2019 National Orang Asli Convention at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre, the Prime Minister recommended enhancing education and ecotourism as a way of contributing to the economic development of the Orang Asli community. He said the ecotourism sector will create job opportunities and encourage the youth in the community to become entrepreneurs including making handicraft items as well as manufacturing forest-based products.

Education is definitely all-important and so is the motivation to make creative handicrafts. What was missing from the PM’s speech was the central problem all indigenous peoples face in West and East Malaysia, namely, the loss of their Native Customary Right land to logging and (oil palm and now, durian) plantation interests as well as state governments’ so-called “development”.



Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 25 Jan 2019

The Cameron Highlands byelection has exposed the hypocrisy of both the BN and PH coalitions toward our indigenous peoples.  Interesting coincidence that the Orang Asli make up some 21 per cent of the 32,000 voters in the constituency, and simultaneously we have suddenly witnessed Putrajaya suing the Kelantan state government for violating the land rights of the Temiar Orang Asli community in Gua Musang. While this is a step in the right direction, will Putrajaya likewise sue the Sarawak state government for their decades long violations of land rights including the forced resettlement of the many indigenous peoples there?

After all these years, PH leaders have suddenly realised the lack of infrastructure, access roads, clean water supplies, electricity as well as education, health and medical care for the Orang Asli! They have further “mooted the idea of an Orang Asli blueprint if Pakatan wins the Cameron Highlands byelection”. Will there be no such Orang Asli blueprint if Pakatan loses the byelection?

A Ministry for Indigenous Peoples

If Pakatan is so concerned about the indigenous peoples and social justice, they should set up a Ministry specially concerned with uplifting the livelihood of all the indigenous peoples in Malaysia instead of having a Ministry for Federal Territories when cities such as Kuala Lumpur should ideally be run by elected Mayors as in other cities in the world?

Malaysia is home to a wide diversity of indigenous peoples and all of them face a variety of challenges. Their plight has often been highlighted by tragic events through the years – landslides, floods, neglect and racial discrimination. The worst example of discrimination is shown by the admission of PH leaders that they have just realised the desperate plight of the Orang Asli at Cameron Highlands…

Empty promises, damned lives

Do they know of the plight of the more than 10,000 indigenous peoples from 15 different ethnic communities who were forcibly displaced to Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme for the Bakun Dam in 1998? Yes, in the twenty years since these indigenous peoples of Sarawak were displaced by the Mahathir- Taib Mahmud administrations, Dr Mahathir has not yet paid a visit to Sungai Asap to see the living conditions of the displaced indigenous peoples there. I went there with a fact-finding Mission in 1998 (six months after the people were moved there) and it was already a depressing ghetto, the peoples’ morale and dignity destroyed.

Perhaps the PH leaders who have suddenly become “conscientized” about the plight of the Orang Asli should prod the Prime Minister to lead a delegation to the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme to see what the prestigious Bakun dam project has done to the livelihood of these indigenous peoples from the Bakun area these twenty years.

In Sarawak, the construction of Baram hydroelectric Dam in Baram, Miri has been put on hold by the Sarawak Government in the run up to the Sarawak state elections. The reason given by the late Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, was that the people in Baram do not want the project. Nevertheless, the cessation of the construction work at this juncture does not necessarily mean an end to the Baram dam project as the project has been temporarily “put on hold” in the past.

Indigenous peoples who protested against the construction of the Baram Dam did so after learning the devastating stories of neglect from those communities displaced by the Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum dams (in 1985, 1998 and 2013 respectively). Sadly, in 2017 communities relocated by the Bakun and Murum dams continued to raise concerns regarding their fundamental economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) such as treated water, electricity supply, fertile farming land and access to decent roads and schools.

Apart from these notable cases that were widely publicized by the media, there have been countless other violations of human rights inflicted on the indigenous peoples of Malaysia. Some of these violations relate to the ineffective use of funds by relevant ministries that led to poor growth and development, poor water quality that led to poisoning and in other cases, land tussles between the community and corporations supported by government. The disastrous floods that plagued Malaysia late 2014 and early 2015 further exacerbated the human rights violations suffered by the indigenous communities, especially concerning their economic, social and cultural rights.

Human rights violations against indigenous peoples

Violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) remain a major concern, particularly as indigenous communities continue to lose their native customary rights (NCR) land as a result of landmark decisions at the Federal Court. Outside of court, indigenous peoples have to defend aggressive land encroachment predominantly by plantation companies and face threats including violence from gangsters employed by the companies to harass the indigenous communities.

Indigenous peoples also voice concerns over their freedom to access information, including lack of government transparency over the availability of the Terms of Reference (TOR) for Social and Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA) for development projects in the state, which consequently hinder their participation in more meaningful consultation on state land policies. On top of that, the state continues to interfere in indigenous peoples’ right to self-governance through the government selection and appointment of indigenous community leaders, who do not necessarily represent the interests of the communities.

On 4 April 2017, a statement released by SUHAKAM highlighted “the slow progress in the undertaking of actions by the Cabinet Committee [set up by the government in 2015, for the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples] which has resulted in continuous human rights violations of the Indigenous Peoples, especially the encroachment into their native land by developers.” And on 30 April 2017, SUHAKAM called for a moratorium or a temporary prohibition order to be placed on all developments involving indigenous peoples’ lands, pending the implementation of the recommendations of the 2013 ‘National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples’.

An official visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Ms Karima Bennoune in September 2017 unearthed further details on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Malaysia, including NCR issues faced by native communities in Sarawak. Particularly revealing was acknowledgement from the Federal Government’s newly empowered ‘Integrity, Governance and Human Rights Department’ that “land rights of indigenous peoples remain an unresolved human rights issue and a gap in the law which it will be studying.”

Protecting our Forests

On 15 November 2017, Penan leaders from Baram and Limbang presented maps of their ancestral lands totalling 10,000 sq km of land to the State Government in their struggle to protect their last remaining forests from logging activities. A total of 23 maps, which took 15 years to complete, covered land purported to belong to 63 communities and was presented to Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas in the hope that the land could be protected from encroachment and officially recognised as the ‘Baram Heritage Forest’. Formerly known as the ‘Penan Peace Park’, the ‘Baram Heritage Forest’ is an area of forest that the Penan hope to see protected as a rainforest park and managed by the local indigenous communities with the support of the State Government.

Penan from the upper reaches of the Baram river had also penned a letter to the late Chief Minister Adenan Satem in 2016, calling for a moratorium on logging and plantations on their NCR land at particular risk from notorious logging giant Samling. The Penan communities in Sarawak are still hoping for a moratorium on Samling’s logging activities. The Samling Group originates from Sarawak and have been aggressively operating in the Upper Baram region against the consent of Penan communities for decades.

On 27 November 2017, hundreds of Iban villagers from Bulin Saeh in Niah held a peaceful protest over alleged encroachment of their NCR land by a palm oil company and requested the government to recognise their native rights by issuing them with land titles. According to Tuai Rumah Panjai Bulin, the community’s family members and ancestors have lived there since colonial times but have not been granted official ownership of their NCR land. Similar to the situation faced by the Ibans from Rumah Munggu Sawa Ulu and Ili, the palm oil company operating in Bulin Saeh had allegedly been granted land without the consent of the community. (SUARAM Human Rights Report 2017) The ministry of Primary Industries should look into the indigenous peoples’ grouses before defending the oil palm plantation interests.

SUARAM’s Recommendations

From the above, if the PH government seriously wants to solve the plight of our indigenous peoples, they should consider these recommendations by SUARAM:

•             Bring all existing legislation dealing with Indigenous Peoples rights into accordance with international human rights standards;

•             Implement recommendations from SUHAKAM’s Strategic Framework on a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights for Malaysia in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples affected by land rights issues in Sarawak;

•             Abide by all articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of which Malaysia is a signatory;

•             Abide by all relevant articles of the CEDAW, CRC, CRPD and CBD by which Malaysia is bound;

•             Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Labour Organisation’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989 (commonly referred to as ILO 169) and incorporate the provisions into domestic legislation;

No Merdeka for Land Rights and Indigenous Rights

For Immediate Release
27 August 2018

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) condemns the demolition of the indigenous peoples’ blockade in Gua Musang, Kelantan and the forced eviction and demolition of a ranch in Bukit Tinggi, Klang by the state authorities of Kelantan and Selangor respectively.

Continue reading “No Merdeka for Land Rights and Indigenous Rights”

No Merdeka for Land Rights and Indigenous Rights

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) condemns the demolition of the indigenous peoples’ blockade in Gua Musang, Kelantan and the forced eviction and demolition of a ranch in Bukit Tinggi, Klang by the state authorities of Kelantan and Selangor respectively.

Continue reading “No Merdeka for Land Rights and Indigenous Rights”

Human Rights Day in Troubled Times

For Immediate Release
10 December 2016

Human Rights Day in Troubled Times

Human Rights Day that falls on the 10th December 2016 is supposed to be a day of celebration where people from around the world celebrate human rights. While the spirit of solidarity and hope remains strong within and without Malaysia, the situation pertaining to human rights in Malaysia have brought morale of all Malaysians to a new low.

Detention without Trial

The detention of Maria Chin Abdullah, Siti Noor Aishah, Azmi Nur Jalani, R. Sri Sanjeevan and many others made it clear that the spectre of Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) has not left Malaysia. While ISA has been repealed for years, the mannerism where detention without trial is a ‘must have’ tool adopted by the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Government has not changed. Draconian laws that were supposedly meant for counter-terrorism efforts have been and will continue to be abused by those in power for their benefit.

The Deputy Prime Minister himself has unabashedly informed the Malaysian people that 37 individuals from the Immigration Department of Malaysia were detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012. Of the 37 detained, only 4 had a chance to stand trial in court while 33 of them were subsequently rearrested and detained under the Prevention of Crime Act 1959. Dozens remain in custody till this day. Such practice does not protect Malaysian from further criminal acts and violence. Such practices only serve to hide the hidden hands that have had a role in these injustices and penalize the innocents.

Torture in Detention

The Deputy Minister for Home Affairs and the Inspector-General of Police continues with the perverse defence that the treatment received by Maria Chin Abdullah was no different from the treatment received by any other detainees as the Royal Malaysian Police only acted in line with their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Perhaps the good minister and the well learned police chief wilfully chose to forget that compliance does not absolve the government of the crime of committing torture.

The claims that it the treatment experienced by Maria Chin Abdullah fully complied with SOP only serve as an evidence that torture is not an exception to the norm. The consistent statement and claims put forward by both the Minister and the Inspector-General of Police only proves and substantiate the past allegations that torture is systematically used against those detained under SOSMA and POCA.

Persecution of Student Activists

The disciplinary proceeding against student activists Anis Syafiqah, Luqman Nul Haqim, Luqman Hakim and Suhail Wan Azahar was heard on the eve of Human Rights Day. Their defence was swept aside and they were all found ‘guilty’ for jeopardizing University Malaya’s reputation, for organizing a rally and for causing public unrest and damage to public property.

The unfounded and malicious charges against the University Malaya 4 is only exacerbated by the unprofessional manner in which the disciplinary board heard the disciplinary proceeding. The notion of fair trial and natural justice was nowhere to be found with the allegations put forward against the students being altered and changed at a whim. The embarrassing display by University of Malaya only render themselves guilty of jeopardizing the reputation of the University and position the University as a key player of human rights violations against student and youth.

Indigenous Peoples Rights

Despite long year of campaign and small victories along the way, violation of indigenous peoples’ rights continues with absolute impunity. The communities’ fight for survival and human rights was not met with understanding and acceptance but challenged with violence and threats by the Federal and State government.

The government’s insistence on allowing the logging operation to continue with no plans for remedy would only set the indigenous community on the path to extinction. With such callous response, it is inevitable that our indigenous friends would gradually lose their homes, their livelihood and eventually their heritage and identity. Such loss would only be made worse with Malaysia losing its last few vestige of natural heritage with the culling of the forest.

Freedom of Expression and Assembly

Reflecting on the long year of repression, the first right that was silenced in this campaign of repression was our right to express ourselves and assemble peacefully. Persecution of vocal critics to the arrest and detention of individuals expressing their concern for human rights and democracy threatened to destroy the small democratic space we have left.

Imposing fine is no longer satisfactory. Only prison sentence seems to be enough the quell the Government of Malaysia’s need for retribution against those who were perceived as enemy of the state. Unfortunately, even the prosecution and punishment of critics in public space is no longer enough. The ire of the government now turns to every day Malaysian who voice their discontent and worries online. What freedom do Malaysians’ have when a Facebook comment can now put us in shackles?

The Fight Continues

In these troubled times, Malaysians need to remember that the night is the darkest hour is just before dawn. The fight for human rights and better Malaysia cannot be stopped and will only continue to grow. All Malaysians can do and all we can do is to stand together in solidarity with our friends in need and continue to march on against repression.

SUARAM reiterate our dedication to the human rights cause of Malaysia and call on all Malaysian to stand together in our fight for human rights and democracy. SUARAM also calls upon the Malaysian government to re-examine its callous stance on human rights and adopt policies that genuinely cares for Malaysians’ welfare. Failure to do so would only doom us all for all of us have no other home but Malaysia.

Salam Perjuangan!

In solidarity,
Sevan Doraisamy
Executive Director